Island life: A Day in the Life of Jess Vian

Islander Jess Vian gives us a glimpse into daily life on the Isles of Scilly. In the process, she reveals a few stories about this beautiful and intriguing archipelago, from an incredible lighthouse-building family to rocks that look like chimpanzees.
7 minute read

Our Day in the Life series is a glimpse into the lives of our Tour Leaders, who are experts in their fields. They are practicing geologists, local historians, academics, scientists, writers, curators and teachers. They’re also skiers, rock climbers, foragers, environmentalists, beekeepers, gardeners, photographers, musicians, mountain bikers, hikers and bakers. We can’t think of a better group of people to go on vacation with!

You might think that life on a remote island chain was peaceful. Jess Vian, a Leader on our Secret Isles of Scilly tours, is about to change your mind! Jess’s Scillionian days are full of variety, company and inspiration.

Somerset-born Jess moved to the Isles of Scilly from London in 2001. “I came to do a summer season and never left,” she says. Her story isn’t unusual among the Islanders, many of whom ended up falling in love with the place and staying far longer than they ever intended. Nowadays, she lives with her husband and 15-year-old son near Bant's Carn Burial Chamber and Halangy Down Ancient Village in the north of the Scillonian island of St Mary’s.

A small menagerie of animals keeps them company. “I have a dog, five cats, a fish tank full of guppies and snails, and about 25 chickens and ducks. I also share a herd of goats with a friend, but they're not at home. In terms of milk and eggs, we are pretty self-sufficient.”

As well as leading tours, Jess works in an office and runs a small business making soap from goats’ milk. Frankly, it sounds exhausting! But being a jack of all trades and holding down multiple jobs is standard on the islands, she says.

Jess describes life on the Isles of Scilly as “lovely. It's difficult to break down why I love it here because it’s the whole of it in its entirety. It's the community, the smallness, the scale, the friendliness of it. It's safe. It's quiet. There's lots of stuff to do and you don't travel very far to do it. It suits me.”

Leading walking tours suits her too. “I love meeting people and showing them where I live. I love it here, and I invite you to love it as well. I can also talk for England, I’m fascinated by local history, and I want to share it with people.”

Jess’s interest in local history was fuelled by her time as a volunteer and now as a Trustee of the Isles of Scilly Museum. More than any other aspect of the islands’ intriguing past, it’s the lighthouses that have truly captured Jess’s imagination. “My interest in the lighthouses is tied up with who built them and where they are, as well as with the Scillonian stories about shipwrecks… Also, I’m not very good with water, so I find it fascinating that anybody would be prepared to put themselves through both the building of and the living in a lighthouse. I can’t think of anything worse!”

There are four lighthouses on the Isles of Scilly, most of which were built in the 19th century, along with a periodically-upgraded lightvessel off the coast. “The Victorians built them because nobody told them they couldn’t. They built fantastically exposed rock lighthouses that make you wonder how on earth they managed it, given the limited tools and equipment available then. Some of the lighthouses are in such inhospitable places that the rocks are no bigger than the actual lighthouse that stands on it! Latterly, the Victorians had engines to help, but originally the building was all done by muscle power. They rowed or sailed the equipment and the big blocks out there and it all had to be lifted by hand.”

Many of those Scillonian lighthouses, as well as some along the south coast of Cornwall, were built by the Douglass family. “They never lost a man or had a serious accident the entire time they were doing it,” enthuses Jess. “They were a phenomenal bunch of Victorian engineers who were brilliant at what they did. And they seemed like nice people as well.”

Jess’s enthusiasm for Scilly is infectious. Here, she talks us through a day in her life. It’s a fascinating insight into what it’s like to live on the Isles of Scilly!

Morning

“I get up at six o'clock to get everything done and then get to work. Breakfast is tea, toast and marmalade. I have a friend who makes the most amazing marmalade and I'm working my way through a great big two kilo jar of it at the moment.

On a weekday I then nag my teenager to get out of bed, do a bit of flute practice and get ready for school. Then I do the goats and then come back to work for about nine o'clock.

The goats are up on the Garrison which is the other side of the island. I have to milk four of them. I also feed Kevin the sheep, who needs a little bit of feeding up. He's so friendly but he's got a face only a mother could love!

Sunday is the one day of the week I have a bit of a lie-in. We take the dog for a quick walk and then maybe go boating in the summer. If the weather's not great we hang around at home. Sundays are quite a traditional day as many places aren't open and we don't have any flying. We occasionally get boats in the summer on a Sunday but generally speaking Sunday is the day when locals have their day off. It's a family day.”

Lunch

“Lunch is whatever I can get my hands on! If I'm at home, I might have a boiled egg. We sometimes run out of food on the Islands, particularly when it's very busy in the summer but also in the winter. When I say we run out, we don't starve! But if the weather’s lousy and the boat can't come, we might run out of milk, bread, fresh fruit and veg and meat.”

Afternoon

“My ideal Sunday afternoon involves a nap, taking the dog for another walk, feeding the chickens – just bimbling around! I'm so busy for most of the week that when I have a day off I try to do as little as possible.

If I’m leading a tour in the afternoon, I might take the group for a walk on Penninis Head, a long, narrow headland jutting out of the south of St Mary’s. There’s a small lighthouse on the end, and it's got these amazing granite rock formations. People are always really taken by the view. There's not anything else like it on the islands. The rock formations are amazing. You can see figures in them. There's one that looks like a closed fist, and one that looks like somebody lying down. One looks a little bit like a chimpanzee, and another that's all waves and curves. Penninis Head has a lot of exposed granite and the granite here weathers beautifully.

The rocks here are quite accessible so you can get right in among them, which is unusual. A lot of cliffs have weathered rocks, but you can't quite get to them. On Penninis you can get up close to them and see how it all works and how the weathering has happened. It's really rather amazing.”

Evening

“My family and I are often only home a couple of nights a week, but on a Sunday, we like to have a roast. We've got quite a lot of apples right now and a load of potatoes to dig up, so we’ll probably have roast pork and apple and blackberry crumble.

We generally stay in for the evening, just because we live quite a long way out of town. We’re gradually working our way through various box sets. At the moment it's Welcome to Wrexham, about the football club, which is just the best thing ever! Then I go to bed about half past nine or even earlier if I can get away with it.”

 

If Jess’s enthusiasm for all things Scilly has captured your imagination, check out our Secret Isles of Scilly tours. You can meet Jess and discover these remote islands for yourself. If you have any questions about our tours, please get in touch.

Cromwell's Castle on Tresco, Isles of Scilly